Czech Republic/Austria Trip Report

Apr 4th, 2003, 06:56 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
Czech Republic/Austria Trip Report

This was our sixth trip to Europe and our first to Eastern Europe. We decided that the Czech Republic would be a good
place to get a feel for Eastern Europe. Also, since it was a neighbor, Austria would make a great companion country.

Languages: I speak French enough to understand and be understood and I can read it fairly well. This and English gets
us by in many countries. In addition, we always try to learn Yes/No/Please/Excuse Me/Thank You and basic counting in
the native tongues of the countries we visit. But, for the Czech Republic, we couldn't seem to get the basics of the
language. I believe it was due to all of the different accents on the letters...it threw us off a little. Since the
accents change the pronounciation (i.e., one letter will sound different depending on the accent), it became difficult
for us to speak it for some reason. Probably our linguistically challenged American minds at work. Anyway, this wasn't
a problem as most people spoke English, and where they didn't, pointing and gestures did just fine. For Austria, there
was no problem as we can speak and understand rudimentary German.

Money: We travel with an ATM card and two credit cards. We usually get about $100 in local currency from the ATM and
use the credit cards for everything else. Any extra cash we have we use to pay a portion of our hotel bill. In this
way, we never have to worry about how to get rid of extra local currency.

We are budget travelers so I'll try to give the prices of everything. Please note that all prices listed here are in
USD. Also, all prices include taxes and any other add-ons unless specifically noted.

Iraq War: A few people asked us about it, but in general no one discussed it. We didn't experience anti-Americanism at
any point of our trip.

Driving: Driving was fine in all places. Prague was a little confusing because the streets go in every direction, but
the drivers were all normal European drivers (i.e., drive on the right, pass on the left, courtious). We used Via
Michelin (http://www.viamichelin.com) for driving directions.

Driving Note: In Austria you need to buy a sticker that lets you drive on the Autobahn. If you are stopped without one,
there are stiff fines. The stickers take the place of tolls, and you can buy them in Post Offices (and I'm sure other
places). That being said, we did not buy one and had no problems.

Driving Note Again: In Prague, you may drive for what seems a long time and through tiny, tiny towns without seeing a
sign to indicate where you are going. Do not despair! You will see a clearly marked sign when it is time for you to
turn. Just make sure you stay on whatever road until then and you will be fine.

Food note: As with many areas in Europe, in the Czech Republic bread is put on your table with your meal. This bread is
*not* free, although it is cheap. If you don't like bread, tell the waiter you do not want it and you will not be
charged.

Pictures: For pictures of our trip, go to http://pictures.mathewsweb.net, click on the last link in the upper left
frame (Vacations) and then the first link in the lower right frame (Czech Republic/Austria 2003).

For this trip we went to the Czech Republic and Austria. We also went to London for two days at the end, but that was
just to visit friends so is not covered in this trip report. Suffice it to say that a lot of alcohol was consumed!
alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 06:56 PM
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
We flew non-stop from Cleveland to London on Continental. We used FF miles, so the trip was, essentially, free. The
plane was small (3 rows on each side...no aisle), but the ease of non-stop outweighed the discomfort on the flight. We
landed at London Gatwick and took a train to London Stansted. Originally we were going to take a bus. The bus was a 3
hour trip and more expensive than the train, but it was direct whereas we would need to take two trains and the tube
otherwise. However, when we were standing in line for the bus tickets the smell of many of the people in line convinced
us to take our chances with the trains. I guess this sounds a little "elitist", but if you could have smelled what I
smelled. And I *knew* one of them would be sitting next to us. Well...taking the trains turned out to be a very good
move. First, it cut an hour off of our trip. Second, we were able to buy a single ticket at the Gatwick airport for all
three trains we needed to take. FYI, I guess this is standard procedure for riding trains in England. And third, we
never had to go outside...switching trains was very easy. The cost was $65 for two of us and we took the Gatwick
Express to the Tube to the Stansted Express. If you ever need to take a train in London, use
http://www.qjump.co.uk/home/index.html. It will have everything you need.

From Stansted we flew Czech Air into Prague. This was $125 round trip per person. Once in Prague we rented a car from
Auto Europe. The price was only $260 and included a cell phone that was FedEx'd to us in the states before we left (we
had to pay an extra $35 for shipping for the phone). The car was a small 4DR automatic, but more than comfortable for
the two of us and our luggage. The only negative about this was a winter tire and registration tax that was assessed
daily. It we had read every page of the tiny writing on our contract we would have known this beforehand, but... In any
event for the 9 days it was $60 extra.

To refuel your car before dropping it off, drive "through" the airport (i.e., around/past the departures section). As
soon as you leave the airport there will be a gas station. Fill up, get back on the road (heading towards Prague) and
you will shortly see a spot to make a U-Turn back to the airport. Do so and drop your car off with a full tank.

Czech Air was a fine airline. On the way out there were no problems. But on the way back the flight was delayed 5 hours
due to "mechanical" problems. This can (and does) happen on US carriers, so I won't single Czech Air out for that.
Everything was otherwise fine, comfortable and good food was served on the short flights.

We did have two experiences in the Prague airport to break up the boredom while waiting for our return flight. The
first was a casino that is present in the airport. You can gamble in Czech or US currency (the Czech Republic is not
part of the EC, so no Euros). No dress code and all types of games and slots.

The second was a bomb scare that emptied the airport. If this ever happens to you, go to any heated area detached from
the main terminal. For example, many airports (including Prague) have their auto rental counters away from the main
terminal. Head here quickly before the masses figure it out. Once there you will find the airport employees already
relaxing. And, when the "crisis" is over you will know because the employees have walkie-talkies and will start to head
back.

alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 06:57 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
Part I - Czech Republic

We left on the night of March 5th and arrived in London the morning of the 6th. From there we travelled to Prague,
getting in around 4pm local time. Picking up the car was easy and we were in the city about 1hr after we landed.

The only hotel we reserved on the trip was for Prague - the Botel Albatros. Called a Botel because it sits on the
Vlatva river, we figured this would be a pretty cool experience - and it was. I would highly recommend staying here.
The rooms are spartan, but clean and quiet. There is hot water with excellent pressure. The view (of the river) is very
nice, and the breakfast (included in the stay) is standard European fare (e.g., cold cuts, bread, cheese, cereal). The
staff is friendly and, most importantly, there was free parking next to the ship. It is a five minute walk to the Old
Town (Stare Mesto) from the boat and about a ten minute walk to the Charles Bridge. The latter you can do as a romantic
stroll along the Vlatva. The cost for this is $40/night.

Our first night there we wandered into the Old Town and had the most pleasant surprise. We stopped into a small
restaurant and ordered a large pizza and drinks. When all was said and done the bill was less than $4, including the
tip. Yes, Prague (and the entire Czech Republic) is very, very, inexpensive.

The rest of that night we just wandered around bar hopping. The Old Town is perfect for walking and getting "lost" in.
As an aside, an interesting thing about Czech bars is that the ones with actual bars (i.e., where you can sit at the
bar) don't really serve food. Ones that do serve food usually don't have a bar to sit at.

The next morning we got up and travelled to the towns of Karlstejn and Krivoklat to see the castles there. This was a
major disappointment. To get to the castle at Karlstejn you need to walk up a very long (close to 1 mile?) hill. The
walk itself isn't bad, but you are surrounded by dozens (hundreds?) of shops all selling junk. A few (like the armor
shop near the top of the hill) are pretty cool, but most are selling crystal and T-shirts. We actually didn't go inside
of the castle because we read that you should see the outside of the castle at Karlstejn and the inside of the castle
at Krivoklat. Maybe if we had gone inside, our impression of Karlstejn would have been better, but my advice would be
to stay far, far away. If you want to see cool castles take a day trip to Germany instead.

Krivoklat was the opposite of Karlstejn, but our visit there wasn't any better. The town is very small and I don't
believe there is a single tourist shop there. I can't speak for the castle because it was closed to individuals (only
open to pre-booked groups). However, my impression was that this city (and castle) should be skipped too.

The day wasn't a total waste, though. We did a lot of driving through the Czech countryside, which was very pretty. And
we ended up getting back to Prague much earlier than we had planned. This meant another day exploring the Old Town.
More importantly, it meant we could leave Prague a day earlier. Understand that we loved Prague, but when we travel we
like to keep our itinerary open. We don't want to reach the end of the trip and wish we had an extra day in a certain
spot. So, whenever we can, we move on.

Leaving Prague early was probably the best decision we made on the trip. Our next destination was Cesky Krumlov, the
city that everyone talks about and just south of the home of Budweiser beer.
alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 06:59 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
When we entered the city, we stopped at what appeared to be a tourist info place. I think it was (still not 100% sure),
but more importantly it had the most beautiful rooms sitting on the river. Picture a large studio type room with a
"country" type interior. All wood, very nice. Thoroughly modern bathroom. Gorgeous view of the river. Breakfast served
in your room. That's right, they ask you what time you want breakfast and it is delivered to your room.

There are only 4 rooms in the pension. We stayed in the most expensive one. It was $38 which included the breakfast and
parking. The next day started the low season and the price dropped $6. The name of the place is the Pension Mysi Dira (
http://www.ceskykrumlov-info.cz). You can email them at [email protected], call them at +420-380-712-853 or
fax at +420-380-711-900.

We walked around the town which is very pretty but I didn't think it was as pretty as people had said. I had images of
a town like Bruges (in Belgium) in my mind and this looked like a run down version of Bruges. That being said, I would
highly recommend this town to anyone going to the Czech Republic. In fact, if you can only visit one city here besides
Prague, I would recommend Cesky Krumlov.

Why? Well, for starters, it *is* pretty...just not as pretty as some hyped it to be. Also, it has a very cool castle
with a moat that is now inhabited by bears. That's right, bears! The entire town is an "old" town and the town square
is pretty nice. We went off season, but in season it gets pretty wild there. We saw lots of advertisements for things
happening in the next few weeks. The shops are small and quaint and the restaurants serve excellent food. Best of all
you can see it in a day and feel satisfied, or stay longer and chill out.

Besides the pension, I highly recommend a bar called the U Joseph. It is a local bar, so you'll just see locals there.
It is very small, but has (and even smaller!) stage and live music. The night we were there the band was singing
American country/western songs with Czech lyrics. In the Czech Republic, it is common to sit at a large table with
others you don't know. We had read this, but were not 100% sure how true it was. When we walked in, all of the smaller
tables were filled, but after standing around looking stupid for a few minutes a young man waved to us to sit down at
his table. He was the only person in the bar who spoke English.

alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 07:00 PM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
All language barriers were broken down once the Budweiser (or Budvar as it is called there) started flowing. The people
were warm and friendly and we felt at home. It was a long night, and I can't remember all of the details, but I do
remember these things:

1) At one point I was on the stage singing 2) I drank more beer that night than any night since my college days 3) A
man from Poland who lived in Cesky Krumlov and only knew one word of English (America) kept buying me shots 4) A man
from the Ivory Coast came in and I got to use my French knowledge! 5) At the end of the night the tab (including a meal
my wife ordered) was under $10

One more thing about this bar. The 19th of March is a Czech holiday - St. Joseph's Day. Since the bar is called U
Joseph, that night is a particularly fun night there (or so I am told)

Overall impressions of Czech Republic: 1) Prague is definitely a cool city. Whether you like to eat, drink, sightsee,
or relax, you will enjoy yourself here. 2) The Czech Republic is the cheapest place we have ever been to. It is
possible to spend a lot of money, but this is definitely a budget country. 3) The countryside is very pretty, but not
awe-inspiring. The countryside looks a lot like the American midwest. 4) Very friendly people. 5) The cities are
pretty, but look a little old. The beauty comes more from what you can imaging they once looked like, rather than what
they currently look like. 6) I would recommend the Czech Republic to anyone thinking of visiting Eastern Europe.

Part II - Austria

We left Cesky Krumlov and headed to Hallstatt on the 9th. Austria is an amazingly beautiful country. During the drive
to Hallstatt we passed through many small pretty towns on lakes bordered by mountains. In fact we stopped a few times
just to look and take pictures. This had us pretty excited because everyone talked about how pretty Hallstatt was. And
if the drive to Hallstatt was this good, then Hallstatt must be amazing.

Or not. What a let down. Yes, pretty lake and pretty mountains, but the town itself seemed...blah. And the prices for
rooms were outrageous. Luckily, at this point our itenerary was pretty fluid. We knew in general where we wanted to go,
but didn't have any specifics. We were not impressed with Hallstatt so decided to head to Salzburg (an hour away). This
was an excellent move.

alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 07:00 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
Salzburg is great. We could have easily spent a week here and not been bored. A lot of people said it was very
touristy, but we did not find that to be the case. We found a great hotel, the Auersperg (
http://www.auersperg.at/en/hotel.htm), for $100/night. For that price we got a very fancy room, parking, free internet
connection, use of sauna and pool, and an amazing breakfast. In addition to normal European stuff they had sausage,
bacon, eggs, croissants, cakes and muffins/pastries. The hotel was a 5min. walk from the Old Town and the walk was
through a pedestrian area lined with shops and restaurants. I can't say enough about how good this hotel was...it felt
like the rooms should have been $150-$200/night.

The Old Town of Salzburg is for walking. Big open squares with vendors selling the Baskin Robbins equivalent of
pretzles (i.e., 32 flavors), beautiful architecture (including a cool Cathedral and Bell Tower!), and good restaurants
and bakeries. Best of all, for me, is that the square in front of the Residence has one of those "life size" chess
boards. People play on it (and around it on smaller boards) throughout the day. I did partake in a game and managed to
squeak out a win.

There is also a beautiful river that runs through the city. You can walk, or bike (as many do) along the banks. Benches
are set up to relax or have a small lunch.

The immediate area around Salzburg is what we wish we had more time to explore. We did manage to go to the Salt Mine in
Hallein. We were expecting something really touristy and cheap, but it wasn't that at all. You can get to the Mine via
car (less than 30min.), train or bus. Once there, you can visit an "authentic" Celtic village while waiting for the
next tour to enter the mine. In case you don't know (I didn't), the Celts settled the area of Austria that Salzburg is
now in and were the first to mine for salt there. My advice...skip the village. Picture the cheesiest museum exhibit on
this subject and you'll start to comprehend how bad this looks.

The mines themselves, on the other hand, are terrific. First, you don a white jumpsuit to protect your clothing. Then
you take a "train" into the mine. Getting off the train you can lick the walls of the mine to taste the salt and then
the tour itself starts. What follows is a fascinating tour. You learn all about the history of the mine from the first
Celtic miners to the modern day miners. This comes in the form of movies, exhibits, the guide, and...a boat ride! You
also take a variety of transportation methods to descend into the mine: 2 trains, 2 slides (very, very long and steep
ones), a boat, and walking. On the tour, you actually pass into Germany and back. Pictures (ala amusement park roller
coaster style) are taken along the way (on the first slide and first train ride) which you can purchase for $5. All in
all the tour truly is amazing and if you only have time for one day trip I heartily recommend it.

We left Salzburg after two days and headed to Melk to see the abbey. I've seen a lot of "cathedrals" in Europe,
including the Vatican and St. Marks. This was the most impressive religeous "site" I've seen period. If you go to
Austria, by all means go here and take the tour. It's really too amazing to describe in this report. The best I can say
is...go here and take the tour.

alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 07:01 PM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
From Melk we headed to Durnstein to get a hotel for the night. Unfortunately the *entire* town was closed. But that was
ok. The ride to Durnstein (along the Danube in the Wachau valley) was exquisite and even though the town was closed, we
could still walk around in it. Also, we had bought food in Salzburg to stop and have a picnic with, so we stopped here
and ate on the banks of the Danube. Ducks and swans were walking around, it was a sunny day, and we had the entire town
to ourselves. It was very nice and romantic

However, we still had to find a room for the night! So, we went to the next town, Krems, and found a place there. The
hotel was very nice, and had free parking and an internet connection. It was situated in a vineyard in the hills
overlooking the Danube (which we could see from our room). However, they screwed us on the room rate. We asked several
times what the price was and was told $70 each time. However, when we went to check out they told us the rate was
$70/person! This made it the most expensive hotel on the trip (by far), but not nearly the nicest. Oh well, we weren't
going to let that spoil our trip. The hotel *was* nice...just not that nice!

Overall impressions of Austria: 1) Very, very beautiful country 2) Salzburg is a must see city. Spend as much time as
possible here and see the surrounding area. 3) Regardless of whatever else you do, see the Melk Abbey 4) This is a
country to indulge your carnivorous fantasies. Schnitzle, Sausage, Beef, oh my! 5) The towns in the Wachau valley are
great. 6) I would recommend Austria to anyone.

Part III - Czech Republic again

The next morning, the 12th, we decided to head back into the Czech Republic. We stopped in Telc for lunch because
everyone talked about how pretty the town square was. It was pretty and this town makes a nice lunch stop. I wouldn't
advise spending the night here, but a brief rest is fine. There is also a river running through this town that is nice
to walk along.
alyssamma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2003, 07:02 PM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
After lunch we headed back to Prague for our final two days. We mostly just wandered around the Old Town again. We did
walk along the river (Vlatva) and take the "Royal Walk" (from the Old Town across Charles Bridge to the Castle). At the
castle we saw the changing of the guards. We stood there for maybe 20min., constantly thinking "ok, now this is when
something cool is going to happen". It never did, even though the castle courtyard was packed with people like us,
watching, waiting. My advice, skip this! Also, you can see a lot of the castle for free. In fact many of the areas you
can peek into and decide if you want to pay for them or not. Again, my advice, unless you are really into this type of
stuff, just walk along the castle grounds.

Be prepared when you go to the castle for a long walk uphill. However, the path is lined with shops and
bars/restaurants and when you get to the top the view is spectacular.

We also had dinner at a traditional Czech restaurant. Everything from the atmosphere to the serivce to the food rated a
perfect 10. This was a fancy meal in a fancy place so was more expensive than the other restaurants. Still, at $20
total for 2 meals, drinks, and tip, it was pretty inexpensive by Western standards. The name of the place is Staromacek
(http://www.staromacek.cz) and it is near the Town Square in the Old Town (Stare Mesto).

On the 14th we had to head back to London. However, our flight didn't leave until 4pm (well, it was supposed to leave
then...it really left around 9pm!) so we spent the morning in Kutna Hora and visited the Bone Church. This is about 1hr
from Prague and was the best of our day trips from it. The Church is amazing, and its inside walls are covered with
human bones (skulls and all). You even have to walk through a cemetary to get into it! It is very small, though. Mainly
one large room with several small alcoves. You can see then entire thing in 5min., or spend maybe 15min to soak it all
in.

In summary, I recommend visiting both of these countries!
alyssamma is offline  
Apr 5th, 2003, 02:08 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 292
Thanks so much for taking the time to make this wonderful report. We were in the Czech Republic in March of last year and loved the country. This report brought back many fond memories. Your report is also filled with lots of useful info especially for budget travellers. This is a real contribution to the site.
JmVikmanis is offline  
Apr 5th, 2003, 02:24 AM
  #10  
Maira
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
alyssamma--- it was so much fun to read your trip report! Great trip report! Other than the destinations, few of the great lodging, sights and restaurants/bars you mentioned have been previously mentioned in this forum, so it this one is a keeper! The idea of the botel is a riot!

I love Prague, close to the top on the List of Cities to Go Back to. Again, thanks for sharing in detail. Awesome report.
 
Apr 5th, 2003, 02:42 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 36
Thank you so much for this report, I am going to both of these places next month and this is going to help. Felissa
Felissa is offline  
Apr 5th, 2003, 02:44 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 36
One more question, is a car necessary to do this trip, can it be done by bus or train? Thanks, Felissa
Felissa is offline  
Apr 5th, 2003, 05:25 AM
  #13  
ira
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 74,145
Hi alyssamma,
Thanks for the trip report.

For future reference, IIRC, there is a streetcar that will take you up to the Castle.
ira is online now  
Apr 5th, 2003, 07:46 AM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 223
Felissa, to properly do the Czech Republic I would definitely recommend a car. Many places are inconvienent to reach via train, often requiring multiple changes.

For Austria, I would recommend a car simply because the countryside is so pretty. You will want the ability to stop and just soak everything in when the mood strikes you.

If you want any more info, feel free to email me at [email protected]
alyssamma is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2003, 02:42 PM
  #15  
ec
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 120
Very interesting - especially the part on your view of CK. I was also under the impression it would be a GREAT town to visit.
ec is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2003, 03:14 PM
  #16  
lynlor
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Loved your report!! We are going to Vienna and Prague in October. Please tell me that you are young!!!!! Our trip will be quite different....not better, just different.

Was the weather comfortable? And do you think the weather in early October will be about the same as March?
 

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 02:09 PM.